By Mr. Eric Kowal (RDECOM)March 30, 2011
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - As an Army installation, Picatinny is a melting pot of sorts for veterans of all branches of the Armed Forces.
Kristen Burns, an administrative assistant to the garrison command staff here, is part of that mix of current civilian employees.
Joining the New Jersey National Guard in 2006 at age 24, Burns enlisted while attending County College of Morris in pursuit of a degree in criminal justice.
Unsure of where the degree would lead her, she knew she wanted to work in some aspect of law enforcement. She ultimately chose to be a military policeman (MP).
"I chose the National Guard because of the benefits they offered, especially the educational benefits," Burns said.
"At the time, I was going to school full-time and working both full-time and part-time in order to pay for school, so the educational benefits are really what sealed the deal for me."
Those benefits helped her to complete her bachelor's degree last October and begin her master's in project management in January.
Burns left New Jersey for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in January 2007.
"Not only was this the first time I'd ever traveled away from the East Coast, but it was also the first time I'd ever flown on a plane," she said.
After five months of basic training and MP advanced individual training in Missouri, Burns finally returned home. A few months later, a fellow Soldier told her about a job opportunity as an armed guard at Picatinny.
"I applied and was, coincidentally, interviewed by a gentleman that had previously worked with me at my part-time job," she said.
"Already knowing that I had a good work ethic, he hired me on the spot and I began working at Picatinny in January of 2008."
Before the installation's access-control security personnel were restructured as part of the Department of Defense, employees were contractors under Chenega Security and Protection Services.
Burns would often work eight-hour shifts checking identification at various installation entry points.
"I liked the job because it gave me the chance to interact with a lot of people, and the people I encountered every day were always friendly," she said.
Once a month, Burns would hang up her blue security officer uniform and don her camouflage utilities in her role as a military policeman.
In June 2009, the extensive training Burns received in both of her roles in law enforcement would be put to the test.
Two months before, Albania became a full member of NATO. Her unit deployed there to teach the Albanian Military Police Force some of the skills they would need to develop if they had to deploy.
The Army unit taught skills such as self-aid, buddy care, riot control, vehicle inspections and checkpoint operations.
"It was a rewarding experience," Burns said. "I enjoyed being able to teach the Albanian MPs skills they may one day need on the battlefield."
"I enjoyed learning about their culture and customs. Even with the differences in culture and a language barrier, everyone we encountered there was very friendly, and many of us stayed in touch following the trip," she added.
When an administrative position in Picatinny's Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) was announced, her supervisor at the time suggested that she apply for it. After interviewing for the position, Burns was offered the job and began working for DES Director Richard Karlsson last January.
"As one can expect, there was a lot to learn when I transitioned from armed guard to administrative assistant, but there were and still are many people that are there to help me when I need it," she said.
Just a few months after officially shedding her security officer blues, Burns was detailed to the garrison headquarters as an administrative assistant to the command staff.
"I enjoy working at Picatinny because there is no shortage of new learning opportunities, chances to get involved with the Picatinny community or people who want to help you succeed," she said.
"What I've learned from working at Picatinny, both as a guard and as an admin, has given me extra skills that I have incorporated into military life."
"Much of the training I received as an armed guard served as a refresher for the training I received from the Army as an MP," she said.
In her spare time, Burns is extremely active participating in physical fitness events that benefit military service members and their families. Yet her support does not stop there.
"My first 5K (five kilometer run) was the Wounded Heroes 5Kto benefit injured military personnel returning from overseas," Burns said.
She also ran in the Run for Jordan 5K in June of last year to benefit a New Jersey girl named Jordan who ran a 5:45 mile in the sixth grade.
Shortly after, Jordan was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a cancer of the bone and surrounding soft tissues. She is now confined to a wheel chair.
Burns has also competed in two sprint triathlons, the Army Ten-Miler, a Turkey Trot 5K held on Thanksgiving benefiting the Sparta Education Foundation, and Picatinny's Armed Forces Day 5K.
She is training for an event in April that has been described as the toughest competition on earth. The "Tough Mudder" is a 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test all-around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.
She also plans to run the Superhero half-marathon on May15 in Morris Township. The run supports the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation for spinal cord injury and paralysis. Participants dress up as their favorite super heroes.
Burns will also run in the SheRox triathlon in August in Asbury Park. This triathlon is part of a series of all female triathlons around the country.
In addition to these events, Burns plans to make a return trip to the Army Ten-Miler this year.
"I do these events because I like to challenge myself and I want to stay in shape," she said.
"Each one of these events gives me a reason to train, and with so many events throughout the year, I am training year-round."